Wordwatch Towers

A plain language guide to punctuation, grammar and writing well.

Feisty pensioner fends off ageism

with 3 comments

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Have you noticed how people of a certain age become ‘feisty’ or ‘game’ or ‘spritely’ or ‘dapper’ or ‘lively’ or ‘nimble’ or ‘alert’ or ‘bright as a button’? Look at this prime example from the Sunday Telegraph:

It was a Friday evening in January when Laurie Leigh, a feisty 73-year-old antique dealer, visited her estate agent after hearing the house she was trying to buy had been withdrawn.

The 60-year-old woman who recently fought off a shark in Australia was also described by at least one journalist as ‘feisty’. Would that word have been used had the person been a young man, for example? I doubt it.

Drop the clichés. If you wouldn’t use these words in connection with a younger person, don’t automatically reach for them to describe an older one.

You’ll see I’m avoiding the phrase ‘old people’. I know it shouldn’t, but it sounds pejorative (probably because of our youth-obsessed culture), as does ‘the elderly’. Prefer ‘older people’.

Also, avoid describing an incidence of confusion or forgetfulness as a ‘senior moment’.

This is an extract from the longer post ‘Am I allowed to say that? A no-nonsense guide to political correctness’.


3 Responses

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  1. I agree with you on the cliches – however “feisty” is rather an odd cove. I was described as “feisty” on many occasions in the mid-20s, so I don’t think it is reserved just for the older generation. What I DO find is that it used only to describe women. So any compliment is immediately dissipated by that age-old gender patronization. I do agree that the use of “senior moments” is a disgrace, used always by someone who has never encountered anyone who has “senior moments” – known as dementia in the all too real world.

    Lizi B

    21/12/2009 at 9:25 am

  2. Hello, Lizi B — how nice to hear from you. Your comment about ‘feisty’ being a gender cliché rather than one reserved for older people is very interesting, and a point I had not fully considered. Thank you!


    21/12/2009 at 9:33 am

  3. “Stock phrases used by the media to lump people together are just lazy, condescending marketing speak”

    The Mail uses that gruesome pun on a Marvel comic superhero so beloved of the marketing people and the demographics analysts. She was, said the Mail, the “late silver surfer”.

    I’m sure it wasn’t meant as an insult. It’s just a fuzzy, cuddly, affectionate phrase, perfectly harmless, isn’t it? Well, maybe, or maybe not, but I’ve been sensitised recently to see “silver surfer” as more than a little patronising, something that actually means nice old dear or good old boy who – gasp – can use new technology. Ooh, look, they’re, like, really old and they’ve still got all their faculties!

    Read the full Guardian article.


    11/02/2011 at 2:50 pm

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